Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.
Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to be strong and go to prom, with Allison Argent.”
Warning: Spoilers for the show Numb3rs up until the season 3 finale! Also note that I haven’t watched any episode of season 4 or beyond, so if you know more about his possible arc (or lack thereof), please don’t reveal any spoilers!
I just finished the season 3 finale of Numb3rs and was completely blind-sided.
What do you mean Colby was a spy for the Chinese? What do you mean he’s been duping everyone for TWO years? What do you mean he’s been in cahoots with Dwayne Carter THE WHOLE TIME.
Yeah, I never saw that coming until it literally unfolded before me.
But why? And how can we incorporate this into our own writing?
First, it’s all about the character. Colby was a good ol’ American boy. He was in the army. He was a rookie FBI agent. He was a good guy. He did his job well, he was funny, and he got along with the team. He was a team player, he got stuff done, and he looked out for his friends – particularly his partner, David.
Next, you introduce just a subtle hint that something is kind of fishy. But make sure it’s not enough that your audience KNOWS what’s going on. Maybe it raises a few eyebrows, but by the end of the episode/movie/chapter/book/etc., your audience still sides with the character and believes him to be a good guy. This happened to Colby when one of his best friends turned out to be a Chinese spy. Don [Eppes, leader of the FBI unit] didn’t like the way Colby had covered for his friend, and still didn’t trust him after Colby had basically turned his friend over to the authorities.
Then you make it seem like everything is okay. The writers of Numb3rs let a few episodes go by before they brought it up again. Everything seemed fine. There’d be a hint of what had happened here or there, but nothing obvious. Nothing in your face.
Finally, blow the lid off the whole can of a worms. In the season 3 finale, Megan [Reeves, behavioral specialist] kept asking what was wrong with Colby. He played it off. Gave some good excuses. I believed him. Then, at the last minute, the bomb dropped. The Janus List was discovered, revealing the names of multiple spies. And guess which name was last on that list?
WHAT? Yeah, I was floored. Looking back, it does make a bit of sense. He did cover for his friend. Dwayne did say that he knew things about Colby that David didn’t. Colby was acting nervous and agitated near the end of the episode. I thought Don was just overreacting whenever he wouldn’t let Colby go out on a lead by himself. But it turns out I was wrong.
Or was I?
The jury is still out. I’m not totally on board with the idea that he’s a Chinese spy. We weren’t given a solid reason as to why, and it’s possible there’s way more going on than anyone realizes. I guess I’ll just have to get watching season 4 and let you guys know if if anything changes.
The point, however, does stand. The best way to shock your audience is be subtle. Don’t let them get to the point where they’ve figured everything out before you can reveal it to them. Doctor Who and Sherlock are really good at this. Then, once you get to the the climax, at the last possible moment, rip the lid off of everything and throw caution to the wind. Don’t just give them some fireworks. Give them the Fourth of July Grand Finale Special.
Your readers will walk away breathless and wanting more.
What show or book have you watched/read that has really blown your mind? Have you ever gotten to the end of watching or reading something and felt like you had to go back and look for all the clues you missed the first time around?